Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Catching Up on the Albums of the Day

Since the entire east coast of the United States has been shut down in anticipation of the apocalypse, it’s likely that millions of people are hanging out at home, nursing their supplies of bottled water and dehydrated tofu, bored silly and surfing the web wondering how just a little sprinkle of rain could portend such a momentous event. Meanwhile, the entire populations of Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican, Cuba, Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean are snickering as they watch the crisis unfold – or as it doesn’t unfold.

Hidden in an old building at the edge of one of the designated evacuation zones here in New York, we’re scrambling to play catchup. We knew that once our daily 1000 best albums of all time countdown started to fall behind, we’d have to get back on the horse quickly. Today is that day! Here’s albums #523 through #521 to bring us up to date through Saturday:

523. Woody Guthrie – The Complete Library of Congress Recordings

This isn’t all of them, but it was in 1940 when Alan Lomax recorded Woody solo, and as you would expect from Lomax, there’s an awful lot of traditional stuff – Rye Whiskey, Foggy Mountain Top and Going Down the Road Feeling Bad – along with the originals. While Guthrie was just as much an archivist as activist and performer, it’s his own songs that everybody wants, and this has most of the early classics. The 3-cd box set intersperses dust bowl ballads – Talking Dust Bowl Blues and Dust Bowl Refugee, to name just two – with less contemporaneous populist anthems like I Don’t Want Your Greenback Dollar, Hard Times and Pretty Boy Floyd along with modern day folk classics like So Long and a handful of instrumentals (Guthrie never would have been so popular if he hadn’t been such a great tunesmith, and a surprisingly good picker). The whole thing is streaming at grooveshark; here’s a random torrent via 0 Earth.

522. Quincy Jones – In the Heat of the Night: Original Soundtrack

This 1967 psychedelic soul classic is more of a collection of songs, some of them without words, than it is atmospheric mood pieces. Twenty tracks in all, many of them clocking in at barely two minutes apiece: detective Tibbs’ confrontation with the cops; a tense jail scene; and edgy, noirishly funky chase scenes galore. Ray Charles sings the title theme and Mama Caleba’s Blues. There’s also jaw-droppingly silly, satirical C&W from Glen Campbell and Boomer & Travis and Gil Bernal’s It Sure Is Groovy, which sounds like one of the Vampyros Lesbos tracks. Reissued in the 80s as a twofer with Jones’ soundtrack to the long-forgotten 1970 followup flick They Call Me Mr. Tibbs, here’s a random torrent via Banana Spliff.

521. The Violent Femmes’ first album

When Chrissie Hynde discovered these snotty acoustic punks in Milwaukee in 1983, little did anybody know that they’d be able to base an entire thirty-year career on this one album. The catchy intros to Blister in the Sun and Add It Up blare over sports stadium PA systems these days, which is especially amusing since the lyrics that always get faded out quickly are so filthy. Brilliant acoustic bass guitarist Brian Ritchie plays the leads behind Gordon Gano’s petulant, smirky whine as they move from post-Velvets angst (Please Do Not Go, Prove My Love and Good Feeling) to belligerence (Kiss Off) to bluesy pop (Gone Daddy Gone) to more menacing stuff like Promise, The Kill and Confessions that could be the real deal, or just a spoof. Still a great party record after all these years. Here’s a random torrent.

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August 27, 2011 Posted by | folk music, funk music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 5/11/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #629:

Absinthe – A Good Day to Die

Sam Llanas may be known as the soulful baritone co-founder of Milwaukee roots rock legends the BoDeans, but this 1999 album by his other project Absinthe – with the Violent Femmes’ Guy Hoffman on drums and Jim Eanelli, formerly of the Shivvers, on guitar – is the best thing he’s ever done. Inspired by the suicide of Llanas’ older brother, this anguished, death-obsessed, semi-acoustic rock record follows the Bukowskiesque trail of a life in a long downward spiral so harrowing that when it ends with Time for Us, a surprisingly warm, comforting ballad that Llanas’ main band would pick up later, the mood still resonates. This guy just never had a chance. Bully on the Corner gets the foreshadowing going on early (although the narrator looks back and basically forgives him: his life must have been hell too). Defeat, with its mantra-like chorus, is just crushing; the title track is all the more haunting for its dignified treatment of the suicide. They follow that with the wistful, pretty Spanish Waltz, the unconvincing It Don’t Bother Me and then the two absolute masterpieces here, the down-and-out scenario Still Alone and the wrenching, Orbisonesque Messed Up Likes of Us. There’s nowhere to go from there but the bitter Dying in My Dreams, the denial of What I Don’t Feel and the paint-peeling noise-rock of A Little Bit of Hell, Eanelli’s great shining moment here. Surprisingly obscure, there don’t seem to be any streams of this anywhere, but it’s still up at the BoDeans’ site; here’s a random torrent.

May 11, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Billy Cohen Memorial Concert

Some people fade from memory after they’re gone. Billy Cohen just gets more and more intriguing. Cruelly cut down by cancer at 23, Cohen still managed to leave a stunningly diverse body of work ranging from punk rock, to modern classical, to the avant garde: if there is any justice in the world, someday there’ll be a Billy Cohen album. Thursday night, Bowery Poetry Club was packed with a mix of family, friends, what looked like every cool kid from the Murrow High School class of ’05, and his surviving bandmates in the Brooklyn What. His younger sister Gabi Cohen had assembled a slideshow that played throughout the night (a favorite shot: Cohen way up in the nosebleed seats at Shea Stadium), a vivid tribute to the multi-instrumentalist composer who was as devoted to the Mets as he was to music.

Politically incorrect singer-songwriter Mickey PG opened, joined at the end by members of the Brooklyn What, their frontman Jamie Frey holding down the bass. He’s quirky and funny in a snotty, punk rock Dead Milkmen/Violent Femmes kind of way. Among his tunes: a not-so-sly, faux R&B seduction song; a funny one about stealing a girl away from her much taller boyfriend; an even funnier one parodying the silly, Jesse Jackson-style slogans that high school teachers use; and the most hilarious one of the night, Dumpster Diving. See, she’s got a Harvard degree, but the only job she can get with it is at Burger King. So she and her man get their gourmet experience out back of the restaurant: it’s all they can afford.

The duo of southpaw guitarist Jonathan Ruderfer (Cohen’s college-era bandmate in Savage Panda) and Cohen’s old college roomie, keyboardist Derek Blustein followed with a stunningly tight, eye-opening set of Cohen compositions along with a couple of originals and some favorite covers. They opened with a catchy powerpop anthem, like Coldplay if that band had real blood in their veins. They nimbly and amusingly tackled a couple of video game themes, a spot-on take of a tricky Radiohead number and an equally tricky, melodically artsy original by Blustein. He explained how they’d been forced to slow down a particularly challenging Cohen instrumental – which came across as a rapidfire amalgam of Louis Andriessen and Thom Yorke – to the point where it was physically possible for them to play it. A terrific, full-voiced singer named Megan then joined them for an equally challenging, operatically-tinged vocal number, on which she had to use every inch of a genuinely breathtaking vocal range.

Cohen would be proud of how good, and how amazingly tight the Brooklyn What have become. Joining them onstage were Ruderfer, Blustein and former Escarioka alto sax player Clayton Costelloe, whose smartly chosen, bracing fills gave the more punk-oriented songs, like a particularly intense version of Gentrification Rock, a scary ska feel. Cohen was a big Kinks fan, so they did a trio of amped-up Kinks covers, the most ecstatic of these being I’m Not Like Everybody Else – not surprising, considering that once he’d brought it into the band, it quickly became a concert favorite. In fact, with the three guitars going at once, it was almost as if Cohen was there. They pounced on Mongoloid by Devo and beat it speechless and burned through an inspired, smartly short version of Moonage Daydream by Bowie. But it was the originals that everybody had come to hear and they got all the Billy Cohen songs from the band’s debut The Brooklyn What for Borough President: blistering takes of the dissociative, Shellac-on-speed rap Soviet Guns, the uneasy, biting punk fury of Sunbeam Sunscream and the quiet disquiet of Summer Song. The high point of the night was another Cohen song, the unreleased Hot Wine, a characteristically surreal Coney Island scenario that went on a doublespeed rampage in the middle. They closed with a delirious singalong of their anthem We Are the Only Ones, written by the band, Frey explained, on Cohen’s little synthesizer in his bedroom. As the audience bobbed and swayed, hands and fists waving furiously on the beat, joining in on the last verse, “I’m not afraid of anything at all, divided we stand, UNITED THEY WILL FALL,” the Brooklyn What were, to paraphrase Frey, undeniably the biggest band in New York. Billy Cohen would have liked that. The Brooklyn What play Arlene’s at 9 this Friday the 20th.

August 17, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, experimental music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Sunday at Lincoln Center Out of Doors: Bad Segues, Amazing Show

By any standard, this year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival is one of the best ever: of all of New York’s summer festivals, this is one you really should investigate if you’re in town – especially because it’s free. Sunday’s lineup outdoors on the plaza under the trees was an improbable but smartly assembled “roots of American music” bill.

“Are you awake?” Etran Finatawa’s electric guitarist asked the crowd, in French: from the response, the answer was barely. With their swaying triplet rhythms and expansively hypnotic, gently crescendoing one-chord jams, the Niger-based duskcore band were a perfect choice to get the afternoon started. They’re as captivating as Tinariwen, starting methodically and getting more diverse and interesting as the set went on. One of the earlier numbers started with a meandering solo guitar intro, like a Middle Eastern taqsim, and grew surprisingly into a boisterously shuffling anthem. One of the band’s percussionists – dressed in what looked like warrior regalia – opened a percussive, stop-and-start number solo on screechy ritti fiddle. Desert blues bands change modes more than they change actual chords, but Etran Finatawa’s most memorable song, an especially epic one, worked a dramatic shift from minor to major and then back again for all it was worth. And then like many of their other songs, they shut it down cold.

Los Straitjackets, arguably the world’s most popular surf band after the Ventures and Dick Dale, made about the most incongruous segue imaginable. But counting them as a roots band isn’t an overstatement: there isn’t a band alive in the small yet thriving surf rock subculture that hasn’t felt their influence, especially because they write original songs, in a whole slew of styles. Happily keeping the choreography and the cheesy stage antics to a minimum, they aired out their repertoire instead with a mix of cheery Buck Owens-flavored country stomps, Gene Vincent twang, three-chord Chuck Berry-style shuffles, and a couple of attempts at a happier spaghetti western style (along with one that was not happy at all – it was the highlight of the show). Drummer Jason Smay’s playful Gene Krupa-isms got the crowd roaring on an extended surf version of Sing Sing Sing; guitarist Danny Amis (who played bass on one song) led the band in a rousing version of a Jimi Hendrix song (ok, it wasn’t a Hendrix song, but that was Jimi on lead guitar on Joey Dee and the Starliters’ Peppermint Twist). Guitarist Eddie Angel showed off expert and boisterous command of every twangy guitar style ever invented, from Dick Dale tremolo-picking to sinuous, fluid Bill Kirchen country licks. The crowd screamed for an encore but didn’t get one.

The Asylum Street Spankers were their usual adrenalized selves, but a sadness lingered: the band is breaking up. Other than the show they played right afterward at Joe’s Pub (one hopes they got there in time), this was their last one in New York. It’s hard to imagine another band who were as funny as they were virtuosic. Banjo player Christina Marrs, multi-instrumentalist Charlie King, resonator guitarist Nevada Newman and the rest of the crew (Wammo was AWOL) all showed off their prodigious chops in turn, tersely and intensely. Their big college radio hit, Scrotum, was “a mixed-blessing song,” as Marrs put it, but she traded off vocals with Newman and King with a freshness and salaciousness that made it hard to believe they’ve sung it a thousand times before. The high points of the show were the political ones: the hillbilly sway of Lee Harvey Was A Friend of Mine, which cites Jack Ruby as “the biggest sleaze in town,” and My Baby in the CIA, a hilariously understated chronology of CIA-sponsored anti-democracy coups over the decades – and a lot of other things, some relevant, some less so but still fun, like King’s throat-singing. Marrs cranked up the volume with her amazing pipes on fierily sultry covers of the Violent Femmes’ Jesus Walking on the Water and Muddy Waters’ Got My Mojo Working; they closed with a swinging version of Don’t Let the Music Die, but it was about to and that was too bad. At least it’ll be fun to find out where all the individual Spankers end up once this year’s ongoing farewell tour has run its course.

August 3, 2010 Posted by | blues music, concert, country music, folk music, gospel music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment